Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
Pubs and restaurants re-open for outdoor service for those keen to brave the chilly conditions as England enters step two of Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap. Other changes include the re-opening of non-essential retail, indoor swimming pools and gyms. MPs who had planned photo ops with celebratory pints will be striking a more sombre tone, though, as the Commons is recalled a day early to pay tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, who died on Friday.
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Inquests begin in London into the deaths of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, who died in the November 2019 London Bridge stabbing attack. The pair were attacked and killed at Fishmongers’ Hall by Usman Khan, who had been released from prison on licence after serving a sentence for terror offences. A hearing in March was told that Khan, who was shot dead by police following the attack, had been identified as a terror threat by MI5 just days earlier.
Harvey Weinstein appears in court for a virtual extradition hearing to determine whether to transfer him to temporary custody in Los Angeles, where he faces further sex crime charges. The disgraced film producer is currently serving a 23-year sentence in New York, having been convicted of rape and sexual assault last February. Weinstein filed an appeal of that verdict earlier this week. If convicted of the 11 additional charges in LA, the 69-year-old faces up to 140 years in prison.
Departmental questions with Matt Hancock and his ministerial team presents an opportunity for MPs to probe the Health Secretary on the latest developments with the government’s vaccine programme. After the first doses of the new Moderna vaccine were administered in Wales, Hancock can expect to be asked about public confidence in the wider rollout of the vaccine amid plans to halt use of the AstraZeneca jab for under-30s, while the brewing row over Covid passports looks set to take up Parliamentary time well beyond today’s session.
The ONS publishes its latest monthly GDP estimate after a double dose of good news for the UK economy saw the statistical body revise its estimate upwards for the final quarter of 2020 and the IMF increase its growth forecast for this year to a healthy 5.3%. Today’s figures cover February, before any easing of restrictions, and won’t reflect the Fund’s optimism just yet, though any improvement on last month’s release would be a further boost and could signal that the economy is ready to start refiring.
Hundreds of British Gas engineers could lose their jobs at the end of a long-running dispute with owner Centrica over its plans to “fire and rehire” staff on new contracts. Workers’ union GMB says the new terms are less favourable and would result in longer hours for effectively lower pay, though Centrica boss Chris O’Shea has cited record low profits, declining productivity and a reduced customer base in defence of the new contracts. Workers are due to stage a 43rd day of strike action today to coincide with the contract terminations.
In Hong Kong, a bill to implement highly controversial “reforms” to the territory’s electoral system is tabled in the Legislative Council, with a view to passing the legislation by the end of May. The changes were approved by the Standing Committee of China’s NPC late last month and will reduce the number of directly elected seats as well as creating 40 new seats that will be hand-picked by an election committee. The changes are widely seen as part of Beijing’s ongoing campaign to stamp out political opposition in Hong Kong head of legislative elections, now planned for December.
Despite news of a slow-down in vaccinations until the end of July, the UK is expected to meet its target date for offering first vaccine doses to all over-50s by today. Allaying concerns over vaccine supplies, Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said he is confident everyone will still be offered a second dose within 12 weeks of their first jab. Ministers are also still aiming to provide a first dose to all adults in the country by 31 July.
A UK response to legal action from the European Union over alleged violations of the Northern Ireland Protocol is due, after the EU began a formal infringement process last month over the UK’s decision to unilaterally delay the introduction checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič gave the UK the one-month deadline in a 15 March letter to David Frost, noting that the delays “once again set the UK on a path of a deliberate breach of its international law obligations”. The deadline follows worrying scenes in Belfast, seen as at least partly connected to post-Brexit arrangements, which have been described by First Minister Arlene Foster as “totally disproportionate”.
The UK will be keeping an eager eye on independence day celebrations in Israel, where declining infection rates and the Green Passport COVID certification system mean that public events are permitted over the three days Israelis celebrate Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. Up to 5,000 people can gather in some large outdoor venues, while up to 50 people can get together outside for private gatherings.
In Cuba, a historic four-day gathering of the country’s Communist Party opens. The meeting is due to see Raul Castro step down from his position of First Secretary, replaced by the country’s current President Miguel Diaz-Canel, to complete a transition that began in 2018. Diaz-Canel faces considerable challenges amid an economic crisis and growing voices of dissent on the island.
President Joe Biden hosts Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House, marking the first in-person visit by a foreign leader since Biden took office. Discussions are expected to focus on policy coordination regarding the intensifying threat posed by China and North Korea to Indo-Pacific regional security. The pair are also due to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic response; with a slow vaccine rollout and cases rising across Japan, Suga is expected to seek continued assistance and cooperation from the US ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games.
As coronavirus restrictions continue to be eased, fans return to a major live sporting event for the first time in more than a year as the Snooker World Championship gets underway in Sheffield. The tournament is the first government pilot event which tests the waters for spectators and audiences to return to venues en masse this summer. Organisers will stagger the number of fans permitted to enter The Crucible each day but hope to operate at full capacity for May’s final.
The return of spectators continues Sunday, with 4,000 in attendance at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampton. Though the spectators will be local residents as opposed to die hard Saints or Foxes fans, their presence represents a key milestone in the resumption of fan events. The winner advances to face Chelsea or Manchester City in the final on 15 May.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a national memorial service in Berlin to commemorate victims of the coronavirus pandemic. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will deliver a memorial address, followed by contributions from families of those who have died. Merkel has recently backed another short, national lockdown in Germany while the country tries to get to grips with a third wave of infections.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
Picture: PA Wire/Kirsty O’Connor